Anchorage Assembly debating what to do when emergency shelter closes at end of April

Anchorage Assembly still debating what to do when Sullivan Arena closes as an emergency shelter at end of April
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 6:42 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Hundreds of people are staying nightly at the Sullivan Arena, an emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Where they will go when the shelter closes its doors on April 30 is still very much up in the air.

On Friday, assembly member Felix Rivera presented a draft resolution on demobilizing the Sullivan Arena to members of the Assembly Rules Committee. Rivera said he gathered the various options listed in the resolution from recent talks with the Assembly, administration and members of the community.

The resolution includes exploring whether the old Alaska Native Charter School building might work as a short-term shelter, it directs the administration to request proposals for non-congregant shelters, but also something surprising, creating a public task force to explore the option of sanctioned camps.

The Bronson administration first proposed sanctioned camping or safe sleeping areas in February but the plan was mostly rejected by assembly members who were concerned about the experience at Centennial Campground last summer. Since then, some have expressed interest in exploring a much more structured, supervised camp setting. Rivera said he wants to look at the idea, but doubts it could be ready by the time the Sullivan Arena closes.

“I mean really, what we are looking at is anything that is actually going to be helpful for us in the short term needs to be up and running by this summer,” he said. “And I just don’t see how camps will be feasible in that way.”

Mayor Bronson, who saw the resolution a short time before the Rules Committee meeting started, said he was frustrated with the process. The mayor said the resolution sounded a lot like the plan his administration had proposed in February.

“We are not going to respond quickly to something that is very complex and a very big thing,” he said. “The Assembly had six weeks, they rejected this plan, and now, at the last minute, I’m supposed to respond.”

Rivera said he hopes the Assembly can work with the administration to come up with something soon for the sake of people staying at the Sullivan Arena.

“I can imagine that it’s going to be very stressful seeing we are going to close the Sullivan on April 30th, everyone is going to be kicked out. I can imagine how stressful that would be.”

Rivera said he’ll keep working on options so the Assembly can vote on a more specific resolution at their meeting on April 11.